Ford Motor Co. and General Motors set the pace as automakers representing the bulk of the U.S. light-vehicle market posted modest sales increases for February. Although the increase is less than what we have been seeing, it is important to note that last February was a leap year, so everyone had an extra selling day.
Robust car and SUV demand led Ford to a 9 percent increase in February volume, its fourth consecutive monthly gain. GM’s deliveries rose 7 percent, its sixth straight monthly increase.
GM’s four brands each posted higher sales, with Cadillac volume rising 20 percent; Buick, 15 percent; GMC, 10 percent; and Chevrolet, 5 percent.
Ford said SUV deliveries rose 21 percent, paced by a 59 percent surge in Explorer volume, while car sales rose 6 percent.
Sales at the Ford division rose 11 percent, while Lincoln volume skidded for a sixth straight month, down 29 percent.
Toyota Motor Corp. said combined sales at the Toyota, Lexus and Scion brands increased 4.3 percent to 166,377 units. Volume rose 4 percent at both the Toyota and Lexus divisions.
At the Toyota division, truck sales — buoyed by the Venza, Highlander and RAV4 — advanced 16 percent while car sales slipped 3 percent, reflecting a rare dip in Camry and Prius deliveries.
Honda Motor Co. blamed winter storms in the Northeast for a 2 percent decline in its sales last month. At the Honda division, volume dropped 2 percent while sales edged up 1 percent at Acura.
Chrysler Group, led by a 32 percent surge in car deliveries, posted a 4 percent increase in U.S. sales in February, its smallest monthly gain in nearly three years.
Nissan Motor Co. — hurt by a slump in car deliveries — reported a 7 percent drop in sales in February, its fourth monthly decline since September.
Volkswagen AG said sales of VW-brand light vehicles rose 3 percent, its smallest monthly gain since January 2011, when volume edged up 2 percent.
At Chrysler, sales rose 30 percent at the Dodge brand, and 2 percent at Ram and Fiat, but volume slipped 7 percent at the Chrysler brand and 16 percent at Jeep, where sales have fallen five months in a row.
Still, Chrysler’s U.S. sales have increased 35 consecutive months, matching a streak that ended in December 1994.
Overall, Chrysler’s truck sales — a stronghold for the company — slipped 8 percent last month.
Chrysler attributed the drop in truck deliveries to discontinued output of the Jeep Liberty and the ongoing, cautious launch of the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee, Jeep Compass, and new 2013 Ram Heavy Duty truck line.
Overall, U.S. light-vehicle sales are forecast to climb 3.7 percent in February to 1.19 million units, based on the average estimate of 10 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.
If the forecast holds up, it will be the second consecutive February — traditionally a weak month — that sales have topped 1 million units. In January, typically another weak month for the industry, U.S light-vehicle sales rose 14 percent.
U.S. consumers continue to shrug off bad news — rising gasoline prices, higher payroll taxes, weak job gains, stagnant income growth, the possibility of deep government spending cuts — while purchasing new cars and light trucks.
Wider credit availability, low financing rates, new products and pent-up demand after several years of weaker sales continue to drive traffic and volume at new-car showrooms.
The percentage of new-vehicle sales that were leases has exceeded 20 percent since the beginning of 2010 and has reached about 25 percent over the past three months, Kevin Tynan, a senior analyst at Bloomberg Industries, said in a report this week.
Banks reported the most common rate for a 48-month new-car loan was 4.82 percent in November, the most-recent reporting period. Lending rates have dropped from more than 7 percent before the Federal Reserve lowered its target interest rate to zero in December 2008.
Demand for pickups and other light trucks was particularly healthy last month despite the recent jump in gasoline prices. Kelley Blue Book says Detroit automakers offered up to $5,000 in cash rebates on full-sized pickups last month.
The steady spike in gasoline prices also boosted February sales of smaller cars and alternative-powered models such as the Ford C-Max and Chevrolet Volt.
VW reported sales of its TDI diesel models accounted for 22 percent of the brand’s sales in February, an 11 percent increase over last year.